Fukien Tea Tree Bonsai Care Guide
The Fukien Tea Tree used to be known as Carmona microphylla, however is now known scientifically as Ehretia microphylla. Originally from the Fujien area of southern China, it is now native in Malaysia, India, and the Philippines.
In its natural habitat this member of the borage family may grow to 12 feet tall.
This popular tropical bush has small, shiny, dark green leaves with tiny hairs on the underside and little white dots on the surface of the foliage, sometimes mistaken for pests. The bark is light brown to reddish and may crack with age, adding to its character. The foliage is dense with small white flowers that bloom much of the year. In some small-leafed species the blossoms turn to small black berries.
This tropical bonsai does not do well outdoors in temperate regions, rather it requires a consistent environment of approximately 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit. It can make a good indoor plant if given some time in a sunny window, and if placed outside in summer should be given shade in the hottest afternoon sun in order to protect the foliage from scorch. Drafts should be avoided.
Ehretia microphylla likes moisture, but can be allowed to dry out somewhat between watering. Over-watering should be avoided to prevent root rot. Leaves may shrivel and even drop if under-watered, and turn yellow if over-watered, so offer enough moisture without allowing the roots to remain soaked for any period of time. Fukiens like humidity so if kept indoors, misting or a humidity tray may be necessary to keep the moisture level high enough.
During the growing season, from spring through fall, the Fukien bonsai should be fed every two weeks. During winter, reduce fertilizing to monthly. A regular bonsai mix may be used, or regular plant fertilizer diluted to half-strength. This species does not do well with overfeeding nor with acidic fertilizers. Watering thoroughly before fertilizing can protect the plant against root burn.
Styles – the dense foliage on the Fukien allows for virtually any form to be achieved, most without any wiring. It takes particularly well to informal upright.
Pruning may be done at any time of year. Foliage on this bonsai tends to grow non-stop throughout the year, and new shoots can be clipped back to two or three leaves once six to eight leaves have appeared. Large pruning sites do not tend to heal well on this plant, so you may want to plan ahead to integrate the wounds into the design of the tree or make your cuts on the back of the trunk. It does produce good back-budding and tolerates major reductions.
Wiring may be done on the Fukien Tea as long as the timing is good. Brand new shoots should not be wired, but if you wait too long and the branches are too woody they will not bend easily. Apply wire just as, or just after, the shoots turn from green to woody.
The Fukien bonsai may be propagated fairly easily from either seed or cuttings. To plant from seed, remove the fruit's moist outer coating and plant the seeds in normal bonsai soil. Seedlings should appear within approximately one to four weeks. Softwood cuttings should be taken in spring to summer. Place outside in the shade so that a healthy root system can develop.
This plant may be repotted in spring, every other year, around the time that new growth begins to appear. Roots should only be pruned about ten percent, and bottom heat may be used to encourage growth. Most of these species of bonsai are imported from China, and usually come planted in clay. When repotting the soil should be replaced with a well-draining bonsai mixture – half and half organic/inorganic works well, although Fukien will typically grow fine in all inorganic as well. For best results, replace the clay with soil a little at a time to avoid stressing the root ball.
Insects/Pests & Diseases:
This specimen can be vulnerable to a number of pests. Mealy bugs look like little cotton balls and are often found at the bases of leaves. Red spider mites also prefer this particular plant. Scale and aphids may also attack. Scale should be removed manually.
The best treatment for other common pests is a gentle solution of dish soap in water, sprayed on the foliage to create runoff, then rinsed with plain water.
It's important to note that Ehretia microphylla is very sensitive to chemical treatments – particularly Diazinon. If an insecticide must be used, do a test spray of one leaf and monitor it for a week to see if the leaf becomes discolored and/or drops off. If the foliage remains healthy, it is probably safe to treat the rest of the plant.